The Sisters of the Good Samaritan will be forging a new partnership early next year when educator and experienced lay missionary Brenda Keenan becomes the first person to take up a two-year placement with the Sisters in Kiribati.
Brenda, who is currently serving as Director of Catholic Education in the Port Pirie Diocese, has a long background in both education and mission, having already undertaken similar placements in other countries over many years.
“This is not the first time I’ve done this type of thing,” Brenda said.
“I spent two-and-a-half years in remote Fiji in 1993, ‘94 and part of ‘95 with the lay mission organisation PALMS, and then a couple of years up in East Timor, doing voluntary work as a lay missionary with the Marist Brothers in 2002-03.
“I’ve also had shorter stints in Western Samoa as well as five years in Catholic education in the Northern Territory, which I also saw as a missionary commitment.
“I love it. I love working with other cultures and learning new things. I love learning.”
For the Good Sams, it is the first time they have entered into a formal agreement with a lay missionary in this way.
Congregational Leader Sister Patty Fawkner said the idea of a partnership with Brenda had emerged over several years through the relationship formed between Good Samaritan Sister Sonia Wagner and Brenda in Port Pirie, and was formalised by former Congregational Leader Sister Clare Condon.
“There has been a ‘Kiribati Commitment’ between the Sisters of the Good Samaritan and the Diocese of Port Pirie for some time now,” Patty said.
“As part of that, Brenda has arranged for a number of teachers’ groups to visit Kiribati in a supportive role, and she herself has been to Kiribati in that capacity.
“So Brenda got to know the sisters through that and something sparked with her and she approached the Congregation to volunteer for two years to be a ministry resource person, which we’re delighted about.”
Brenda’s main role will be to help Sister Kakare Biita and her staff at the Good Samaritan Early Childhood Centre at Abaokoro in Kiribati, where she has already previously helped to develop a learning framework.
“Essentially Brenda has signed an agreement to go to Kiribati at the end of January to be with the sisters as a ministry resource person,” said Patty.
“And that would include her doing anything that will help them in their diverse ministries there, whether that be helping with English, providing professional development, or any practical help, even if it means driving them somewhere.
“It’s quite historic for our Congregation. This is a new arrangement and we want to do it well and support Brenda in it.
“One of our former leaders used to repeat an old Peruvian saying, which was, ‘We make the path by walking’, and that’s how we see this unfolding. In a sense, there’s no blueprint. We will make the path by walking.”
Brenda said she was looking forward to the experiences that await her during her time in Kiribati.
“I knew in my heart of hearts that when I finished up here in Port Pirie, I would be throwing my hat in the ring to do something in Kiribati,” she said.
“I see my role as learning from, supporting and assisting the sisters in their role and ministry in whatever way I can. I would love to help build capacity for them with a particular focus on ministry related to education and social justice initiatives, but also to support the wider Church in Kiribati. But whatever I do, it will always be in consultation with the local sisters.
“I want to learn, learn, learn, and whilst learning, also to contribute where I can, and maybe have a bit of fun as well.”
Sister Kakare Biita, who spent time with Brenda in Port Pirie in November and early December, said the I-Kiribati Sisters are excited about Brenda’s arrival and the possibilities of the partnership.
“We know Brenda from her visit to Kiribati and we are very pleased that she’s happy to come and support us and live with us,” she said.
“It’s good to have someone like her with all her knowledge and experience, especially in education, because lots of our sisters are now working in education too.
“We are also looking forward to sharing our island with Brenda and for her to be joining us in our work and daily lives. We feel very lucky.”